Wednesday 31 October 2012

Franklin Graham's Gratuitous Advice

"This could be America's last call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, who is coming again one day very soon to save His own and to judge those who don't know and worship Him."
Franklin Graham in Charisma News

Thus speaketh Franklin, son of Billy.  The "last call" he's referring to is an evangelistic campaign scheduled for next year featuring the old man, who will then be ninety five.  Talk about an inflated sense of his own significance.

Franklin is one of a long line of ne'er do well offspring of evangelists who, after making an energetic and colourful break from the restrictions imposed in their youth, suddenly wise up to the fact that there's money in the religion business, and with a bit of crawling back to dear old dad, they're in line to be the next guy who gets to sign the cheques.  Can we all say nepotism together...

Franklin has always had a problem when it comes to running off at the mouth while the brain is in neutral, and the current US election is no exception.  Father and son have implicitly endorsed their favoured candidate, and then built political rhetoric into their religious message... a nice tax exempt perk.

Of course everyone is entitled to an opinion and a vote to go with it.  But to wrap that up in a cloak of self-righteous sanctity, and entwine it in self important End Times blather; well, that's ratcheting it up to a whole new level.

"My father watches the news every day, and he is deeply concerned about the enormous moral issues facing our country.  That's why your vote on Nov. 6 is so critical."

Big deal.  Since when did watching TV news (let me guess... Fox?) make someone an expert? 

And what does Franklin consider the big moral issues - informed by "biblical values"?  Poverty?  Justice?  Peace?  Not so likely.  These guys would do well to consider the moral issues around Bible thumping in the name of God, and those con artists who extract bucks from wallets and purses by pretending to hold some kind of divine commission.  That kind of moral issue seems never to have disturbed them.  They're usually too busy playing "ain't it awful" by contemplating what's happening below other people's belt lines.

"So pray and then vote on Nov. 6, asking God for His mercy and grace upon our land. There’s still time to turn from our wicked ways so that He might spare us from His wrath against sin."

Billy Graham created his substantial reputation and undeserved credibility by manipulating the fears and insecurities of millions over his long career.  Even as a kid I remember the effect his tawdry little hellfire book World Aflame had on people I knew.  Some would say that he has moved on from his earlier fundamentalism.  Maybe so, but the news doesn't seem to have reached Franklin yet.  Clearly for him, that old World Aflame fear religion is alive and well.

Why is it that we condemn as sectarian this kind of exploitation when it's done by fringe groups, but mutter 'amens' when someone clothed in 'respectability' does the exact same thing.

You're welcome to consider Franklin Graham a saintly soul if you like, but he sounds an awful lot like some of the less glorious religious hucksters in the business.  And somehow that makes this latest round of Bible-clutching, wallet-stroking political posturing even more loathsome.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Halloween horrors

Halloween is the event that some Christians embrace as All Hallows Eve, and yet is demonised (quite literally) by others.  Keith Stump, a former staff writer for The Plain Truth, attempts to dispel the haze over on Gary Leonard's blog in an article called Halloween Hysteria.  While it's aimed at the ex-Church of God demographic, anyone who has wondered whether it's a bad thing to be involved in may find it quite relevant.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Catholic Mass vs. Presbyterian Revisionism

On Sunday I chanced across two church services broadcast by RTE, the Irish equivalent of the BBC (oh the wonders of Internet radio!)  In New Zealand the era of church broadcasts on public radio is but a distant memory, but Ireland apparently moves at its own pace.

First up was a 45 minute Roman Catholic mass.  It was obviously liturgical (though reasonably contemporary) with a brief sermon that stressed positive values.  Putting aside distinctives of dogma (references to the concept of sacrifice in the eucharist for example) it strongly reminded me of the Lutheran services of my youth.  Whatever else might or might not be said, it exuded a sense of worship, with dignity and an aesthetic balance that verged at times on beauty.

Immediately following was a second 45 minute service from a Presbyterian church.  Whereas the mass featured a gospel reading (surely an irreducible core to scripture reading), this service featured a psalm and a section of the story of Samson in Judges - nothing from the New Testament.  The whole thing began with a sultry poetic improvisation on the Samson and Delilah tale, and an awful lot of talking around the obvious was broken up with canned music - modern upbeat rehashes of traditional hymns.

Could it get worse?  Absolutely.  Then cometh the sermon.  While the minister conceded that, on the surface, the Samson narrative is anything but an inspiration to the advancement of peace, justice and apple pie, it nonetheless serves to advance human goodness and progress.  How so?  Well, it was a negative example to ancient Israel.  When the tribal groups gathered around their respective campfires they were led to contemplate not Samson's macho strength and prowess, but his naughtiness in killing a thousand unfortunate Philistines with that jawbone of an ass and tormenting those poor foxes by setting their tails alight.  They doubtless huddled together in horror to hear how he pulled down the temple of Dagon in an act of suicide terrorism.  "My goodness me," quoth they, "we can certainly meditate meaningfully on this at our mid-week Book Club meeting."

Okay, so I'm taking some liberties with the sermon, but that was certainly the gist of it, as I heard it.  And it is all, naturally, complete rubbish.  Samson was a folk hero precisely because he disposed of so many of the enemy.  Around those long ago campfires it stretches credibility to imagine the people holding sober discussions ("what does this passage mean to you Abijah?") while they knitted scarves for Greenpeace and tut-tutted over the abuse of foxes and their God-given animal rights.  Nope, the Samson stories would have been retold with relish just as they appear at surface level.

This kind of revisionism is theological hocus pocus, even if it is the glory of preachers.  It amounts to rewriting the scriptures to suit our modern sensibilities.  Try as you might, no sow's ear will ever a silk purse make.  Fundamentally the attempt is both delusional and, let's not mince words, dishonest.

No doubt about it, for my money the Catholic mass was the superior option that day, winning hands down over the dubious yakkity yak and strained effort at wordy meaningfulness from the so-called Protestant corner.  Too much talk, too much low-quality rationalisation, too much creative but desperate avoidance of the bleedingly obvious.  This isn't so much theology as apologetics in upmarket drag.  Much safer to stick to a liturgy and keep the sermon down to 5 minutes.

Protestants are, of course, a diverse lot.  Most Anglicans and Lutherans would, I suspect, have felt more at home, at least on this one night on RTE, with the tone of the mass rather than the swinging of a Presbyterian jawbone. 

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Sunday 21 October 2012

Petra - Atlantis of the Desert

Hedgehog artifact from Petra... or clay idol of Rod Meredith?
It was described by Lawrence of Arabia as the "most beautiful place on earth," and in its heyday boasted "irrigated gardens, and streets lined with temples and luxurious homes."  The royal palace featured heated rooms and a flushing loo, an "almost obscene display of money and power."

Thus it was in Petra, the rose red city of the Nabataeans, and even now a predicted bolt hole for those apocalyptically-minded folk hoping to flee an upcoming Great Tribulation.

German website Spiegel Online, reporting on an exhibition at the Basel Museum of Ancient Art, brings us up to date with what is now known about the ancient city and its inhabitants, even including a reference to their fish god, Dushara.

A fishy god and a penchant for obscene displays of wealth?  No wonder religious con artists like Herbert W. Armstrong built Petra into their twisted End Time mythology.

A nod in the direction of Jim West for the link on his blog.

Friday 19 October 2012

Surface - the Anointed Tablet

Bleatings brethren, er, I mean greetings brethren.  Yes, I know many of you have been wondering - even losing sleep - over the battle of the tablets.  Should you dig down into the Apple barrel, or take the Android approach.

But wait, here comes Microsoft, and oh my, just take a gawk at the following bit of PR fluff.

No, no, eyes off the tablet!  Look at the Holy Backdrop!

Now brethren, just where was this promo filmed?  And did you help pay for it through your generous tithes and offerings in a past lifetime?

For the uninitiated, the ad was filmed on the grounds of the former world headquarters of the Worldwide Church of God in Pasadena, CA.  Is it my imagination, or have they slapped a coat of paint on those egrets in the paddling pool? 

Nod of the noggin to Gary Leonard.

Saturday 13 October 2012

The Bad News Gospel

I've met Craig White.  Like Craig I share a background in a certain American-based fundamentalist sect.  We met for a coffee at the Chartwell foodcourt in Hamilton one afternoon a couple of years ago when he was visiting New Zealand.  The initiative was his and, truth to tell, I was initially a bit reluctant and not sure what to expect, having read some of his articles.

Craig was however a very personable guy, easy to talk with, and we found we actually agreed on at least a few matters.  It was hard to match up this thoroughly pleasant bloke with the image formed through his advocacy of that peculiar variety of apocalyptic British Israelism associated with the late Herbert W. Armstrong.

I mention this because Gary Leonard has some comments on Craig and some of the statements in his article "When the Bad News Finally Reaches YOU!"  Statements like this:
Yes, the Anglo-Saxon peoples will be destroyed and enslaved by her "lovers", principally a German-led Europe. Do we dare ignore this warning by God? Meanwhile in the Orient, Europe’s global allies will be given the nod to invade Australia and New Zealand.
The nations to Australia’s north will invade the continent and bring Australians to their knees. One third of White Australians will die from disease and famine; one third will die directly because of war; and the remaining one third will go into captivity: "and a third part ... shall scatter in the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them" (Ezek 5:2). Massacre and butchery unimaginable will be wreaked upon Australia.

Which are the gentile nations which will be involved with the coming terrible invasion of Australia (and probably New Zealand)? Prophecy indicates the strong probability that the various invading nations will partition the spoils of Israel among themselves. One in Joel 3:2b speaks of the scattering of Israel and the parting or dividing of Israel amongst her enemies (Amos 7:17b; Micah 2:4; Dan 11:39 seem to tell a similar tale). So every indication is that several nations will be involved in this bloody and bitter exercise.
Australia itself may be divided up by secret agreement between India, Japan, China and Indonesia. For instance, Japan may take the Eastern States; Indonesia and China the Northern Territory and South Australia; and India Western Australia.
Now, just in case you Americans are feeling a bit complacent:
You and your family in Australia are aware that America is in the process of being subsumed. Internally there is race war and massacres. One race of men is tearing around killing and raping. Others are claiming properties and forcing your peoples to work in the fields. Caribbeans are pouring into Florida by the boatload. Japan has taken over Hawaii and other outlying islands before China can get to them.

German-led European forces representing the new fascist National European Social Empire are invading via their ally, Quebec. The effects are devastating and final. Carnage, confusion and slaughter are everywhere! Nothing in world history has ever occurred like this before.
It's a bitter vision.  And here's the incredible thing; this "warning" is an essential component of the Armstrong 'gospel.'  Making proclamations like this are regarded as the "work of the watchman" (Ezekiel 33). 

This message, born out of long-debunked racist British Israel beliefs, leads to a contempt for ethnic diversity, and individuals are reduced to stereotypes.  Fueling this is raw race-based fear. 

Like Gary I react to this kind of ugly rhetoric with loathing.  It's an appropriation of the Bible, through the shuffling of proof texts, to some of the basest human instincts, comparable to some extent with the twisted theology of the "German Christians" in the Nazi era.  The difference (thank God!) is that such views, expressed in the twenty-first century, just seem bizarre.

Any church or ministry that is infected with British Israelism, and particularly the virulent Armstrong strain, should be confronted.  BI should have been relegated long ago to the dustbin of discredited fanaticisms.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Two authors on the future church

As is probably apparent from a couple of recent posts, I've been reading Mike Riddell's 1998 book Threshold of the Future.  Riddell is a New Zealander, and (if dim memory serves me right) spent some time teaching at my old school, Hamilton Boys High, during my time there, before moving on to become a Baptist minister, then a theologian of some note, holding positions at both Auckland and Otago universities, and providing intellectual grunt to the so-called "emerging church" movement both in this country and internationally.  At the time he wrote he was still teaching theology at Otago, and still identified with the progressive element within the Baptist communion.

There's a lot to admire about Riddell's honesty in Threshold.  He saw clearly the impending end of Christianity as we know it, and the need to find a radical solution before we reach the point of no return.  In the end however he was able to provide no satisfactory strategies or suggestions, other than a variation on self-indulgent house churches - a very Baptist thing to propose - along with (at least this is my impression) a retreat from intellectual rigour.  It is always easier to identify a problem than resolve the issues, and the issues that are undermining the Christian world view are Herculean.

Given that Riddell wrote well over a decade ago, I was amazed to find that not long after writing the book he had resigned from his position at Otago, walking off the battlefield to reinvent himself as a Catholic layperson.

At the same time I've been reading Gerald Kieschnick's Waking the Sleeping Giant.  Kieschnick was at the time (2009) president of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.  He too writes about taking the church (specifically the LCMS) into the future, though unlike Riddell he was quite happy to rearrange the deck chairs rather than countenance anything even remotely radical.

Kieschnick was a victim of 9/11 in an indirect way.  Despite impeccable credentials as a rather naive conservative himself, the even more wooden-headed fundamentalists and myopic legalists in the Synod found him wanting because he authorised a representative of the Synod to participate in an inter-faith gathering at Yankee Stadium to - horror of horrors - offer prayers for the those who died.  This, according to the hard-liners, was "unionism" (a term with a specific meaning in the LCMS relating to doctrinal compromise) and "syncretism".

Though Kieschnick was scarcely 'liberal' or 'progressive', he was brought down by reactionaries in the Synod, and replaced by the mustachioed 'Darth Vader' of the sect, Matthew Harrison.

Facing up to the need for change can be a dangerous thing.  The church is undeniably change resistant.  It may suffer a little tinkering about with its worship patterns, but you get anywhere near a nerve - even when it's necessary to save its life - and the beast will bellow and likely trample you.

The Missouri Synod is, thank God, atypical, and arguably now has the leadership it deserves.  But the 'emerging church', quite a different kettle of fish, has also been largely unsuccessful in bringing about substantive or systemic change.  What do they both have in common?

Perhaps "too little, too late."

An Untamed God

When one considers that Jesus had very little to say about sexuality, and a great deal to say about money and possessions, it may be argued with some validity that the contemporary church has lost sight of Jesus and is following some other agenda.  The man from Nazareth had strong opinions about family and the place of it in the scheme of things; most of this teaching being antithetical to current Christian viewpoints...  Present-day followers are like a man who found a treasure in a field, and went home to sit in comfort and talk about it...

The God who is represented as winking at materialism and promoting middle-class values is not the God of Jesus Christ.

Mike Riddell, Threshold of the Future, SPCK, 1998, p. 154.

A World in Your Ear (2)

Continuing a list of favourite Internet radio stations.

Manx Radio.  AM and FM feeds from the Isle of Man.

RTE Lyric FM.  Ireland's classical music station.  Even better IMHO than BBC Radio 3.

RTE Radio One.  Irish public radio, with RTE Choice with a great range of docos.

BBC Radio 4.  News and intelligent features. 

Cruise 1323 AM.  Oldies style music from Adelaide, Australia.

World FM.  Well, I had to include at least one Kiwi station.  This one is in Wellington, and though it's a tiddler in the pond it has a pretty unique international programming mix.

Monday 1 October 2012

It is abusive when...

It is abusive when people are taught to accept the word of those in authority, and that questioning of that authority is an affront to God.  It is abusive when any person or group of persons claims to speak the word of God, and that claim is not subject to discernment by the wider community of believers.  It is abusive when decisions are made in secret by a small group of powerholders, and such hierarchical rule is interpreted as being Christian.

Mike Riddell, Threshold of the Future, SPCK, 1998, p. 67